Cleopatra made the snake a powerful fashion symbol back in B.C. Egypt, sporting a sacred cobra on her diadem -- and in legend, using one to off herself. And in the 1970s, "Texas cowboys wore rattlesnake boots, and it signaled triumph over adversity," says Janice Ellinwood, chair of Marymount University's Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising.
This fall, the reptile both dreaded and sometimes deified has slithered back into style, both on actual snakeskin accessories (pumps, purses, jewelry) and on knitwear, dresses and skirts in scaled-yet-lush prints recalling the hides of everything from anacondas to water moccasins.
"It's a non-print print," says Betsy Fisher, owner of the Washington boutique that bears her name, where you can find a range of serpentine pieces. "Snakeskin is a neutral that's really rich and warm, but fresher than the cat prints we've been seeing," she says. "It can even be a nice way of showing an affinity with nature."
The biblical trouble Eve had with a serpent and an apple, and some people's ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) mean the mottled pattern carries a bit of danger and edge. "It's got a sense of toughness, since snakes are such survivors," says Katherine Limon, owner of the Washington eco-boutique Carbon.
Still, too many reptilian pieces in one outfit says Britney Spears in Vegas, not successful style hunter. Stick to one scaly piece at a time, whether that's a tailored skirt or a sequined minidress. "Snake pieces mix best with neutral colors," says Jennifer Gosselin, general manager for online megastore Piperlime, which is crawling with the trend. "An accessory is a pop of fun, and if you're doing a dress or top, the key is sticking to solid-colored accessories." And remember, if you walk too far over to the wild side, change is just a matter of shedding some skin.
Want to give your pedi a little slink factor? Starting late next month, Terri Silacci will debut her snakeskin pedi at the Ric Pipino salon in Manhattan.
Silacci uses skin from the natural shedding process (so nothing to harm the snake), then she embeds the skin between two layers of gel. With hundreds of shades to choose from, the process costs $300 and lasts for six to eight weeks. Or go with synthetic snake for $150.
-- Barbara Schuler